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-I finished The Female Man, which is quite possibly the oddest novel I have ever read. I've become more and more disenchanted with the dictum, "If you want to send a message, use Western Union" -- by the way, are we ever going to update that? Is the next generation going to know what a Western Union is?

As story, it's not traditionally structured, the points of view are often slippery, it's hard to find a clear through-line to the plot -- but as philosophy, it's tremendous, and it does a lot of things it wouldn't have been able to do as nonfiction or polemical lecture.

There's no such thing as story in a vacuum, story with no moral center. It's just that there are some stories where the viewpoint seems so self-evident and natural to the reading audience that it slips down without any argument. Which is why the classic feminist SF novels are called anvilicious and the classic SF novels that just barely have speaking parts for women aren't.

-Needless to say, I am rolling my eyes at this article in the Wall Street Journal on "dark" YA books.

Any article that conflates the action-adventure violence of The Hunger Games, the realistic darkness of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and the melodrama sensationalism of melodrama-sensationalistic problem novels is profoundly uninterested in what teens are actually reading, not to mention the hows and whys of their reading.

Mostly, I'm not interested in homeopathic bibliotherapy: you are sad about X, so here is a book about X. I think the books that come out of that kind of philosophy are often bad books. But I am with Nisi Shawl. The books that you want to read are the books that are going to nourish you, often in ways you don't fully understand. And to fence off any topic or theme as not appropriate for young adults, I think, gets in the way of that.
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I have been having a very good time reading Julian Comstock. Most adult novels I read, I read out of something like an intense food craving, like my body is trying to tell me that it really needs miso soup or guacamole or an epic of near-future postapocalyptic soft science fiction, and Comstock is no exception to that: it took me about ten seconds to decide I was buying it, and it was exactly the thing I needed at a time when YA was starting to feel very samey (it always does, when I'm reading for Mock Printz, though I've read any number of superior books this year).

It's funny, to begin with:

I had learned all my strategy and tactics from the war narratives of Mr. Charles Curtis Easton, in which every attack is fierce and bold, and nearly fails, but finally succeeds by some combination of luck and American ingenuity. These circumstances are more easily arranged on the printed page than on the field of battle. (p. 438)

Or, the moment I knew I was going to like this book, because a lesser writer would have tried to milk the joke a little harder:

Every prosperous town had a Tip, though in the East it was sometimes called a Till, a Dump, or an Eebay. (p.8)

It does quite well on diversity issues -- the central characters are variously black, gay, and Jewish -- though it's the kind of homosocial boys' adventure that doesn't have many women characters around; still, I think it squeaks by the Bechdel test, and that's more than you can say for a lot of war novels with male first-person narrators.

And I think it's about as even-handed and pragmatic in its treatment of religion as a book can be, when the premise is that after the end of oil and the general collapse of civilization, the US is taken over by a theological and militaristic dictatorship. You can definitely see the echoes of the Bush presidency in the book, but at the same time it's clear that the Dominion has very little to do with faith and everything to do with justifying and reinforcing their own power structure.

I have been feeling a little homesick for Montreal (it's the wind, and the chill in the air) and it's good to read about it. Even if it's a Montreal that's under American rule! -- I must confess I am rooting for the Mitteleuropeans on that count.


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